Sowing Love in California Through Tzu Chi’s Food Pantry Services

National Headquarters  |  August 31, 2022
For Maria Aigareda and her two children, the food box filled with pantry essentials, like beans and fruits, offers a welcome sense of relief. Photo/Ruilong Zhang

Written by Cishi Zhang
Edited by Chenglin Li
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On Saturday, August 6, 2022, the courtyard of Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters was brimming with life. Working amiably with such warmth, it was not difficult to see volunteers beaming with joy under their protective face masks. Volunteers carefully organized all the supplies to be distributed by the Food Pantry into tidy care packages that would be easier for guests to retrieve. On that day, 240 boxes of fresh vegetables and fruits had been packed, coupled with a whole box of canned rice and noodles delivered by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, making up approximately 480 grocery boxes for families. 

Drive-Through Increases Workload

The drive-through grocery distribution is neat and tidy after much preparation. Photo/Ruilong Zhang
Tzu Chi volunteer Junhuai Chen is pleased to serve the community together with everyone. Photo/Ruilong Zhang

Officially launched in 2016, Tzu Chi USA’s food pantry distribution project offers crucial care and support for communities across Southern California. In March of 2018, the distribution of fruits and vegetables commenced at Villacorta Elementary School in La Puente. Then, offering timely help after activities resumed that were formerly paused due to the pandemic, the Family Resource Center in Rowland Unified School District contacted Tzu Chi USA to restart distributions. After evaluation, the distribution would resume on June 1, 2020, to be carried out in a drive-through method. Volunteers initiated this new system amidst the pandemic to reduce contact, packing up the groceries in advance and placing them into the trunks of care recipients’ vehicles in the queue. 

Before the pandemic, volunteers packed boxes of vegetables and fruits by type. After arriving at the distribution site, beneficiaries would select their own groceries, placing them in personal vegetable baskets, carts, or bags in an orderly manner. Currently, Tzu Chi volunteers distribute fruits and vegetables at Villacorta Elementary School on the first Monday of each month, and most of the preparatory work is done in advance at Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters Campus in CA. The preparatory work for packing is hard, but the process of packing is also full of joy. Everyone joined their efforts to efficiently pack the 240 food boxes, which was both moving and exciting for volunteers. 

Food Prepared for Hot Weather

Community volunteer Cristal Corona expresses that Tzu Chi is like a big family, making everyone feel warm and welcome. Photo/Ruilong Zhang
Tzu Chi volunteer, Liang Quan Shi, hopes to help care recipients bring their favorite tasty and nutritious foods to the table. Photo/Ruilong Zhang

“These foods are very useful for some low-income families. The pandemic and inflation have made their lives really hard, and now all kinds of things in the market are going up in price,” said local Tzu Chi volunteer Cristal Corona. “If they can get help from some institutions or organizations, it will have a crucial impact on their living expenses. The regular distribution of fruits and vegetables conducted by Tzu Chi is care that low-income families in the community desperately need.”

Volunteering at Tzu Chi made me feel warm and welcomed. Tzu Chi is like a big family.

Cristal Corona, Local Tzu Chi Volunteer

“During the pandemic, especially in the summer, we have prepared some dry goods in consideration of the hot weather and the needs of families so that the food can be kept for a long period without spoiling and fill nutritious needs,” explained Tzu Chi volunteer Liang Quan Shi. “Today, we have prepared nutritious breakfasts, all kinds of cereals, canned vegetables and fruits, raisins, and other nutritious foods. Now, due to the pandemic and instability of the economy, many families will have some shortages. I hope that the volunteers’ careful preparation will bring varied and nutritious food to their table.”

Helping Families as a Community

Xiuping Yang, a local, thanks Tzu Chi for holding their food distributions. Photo by Jennifer Chien.
Community volunteer Maribel Dellene comes to the distribution site every month to help. Photo/Ruilong Zhang

On August 8, 2022, Tzu Chi volunteers came to the distribution site at Villacorta Elementary School early in the morning to complete the preparatory work before the event, including placing each food box in the planned area for volunteers to conveniently bring out to recipients’ cars. The distribution began at 9 AM, but before that, many vehicles were already lining up in the school parking lot. At this time, Tzu Chi volunteers directed the traffic in an orderly manner. Although there were many vehicles, everyone followed the traffic easily, receiving two large food boxes simultaneously.

I come here to volunteer every month because this is the community I live in.

Maribel Dellene, Local Tzu Chi Volunteer

Tzu Chi volunteers introduced the bamboo bank’s origins to recipient households while the vehicles were waiting, giving each household their very own bamboo bank so they might someday help their neighbors in need. At the same time, masks and other supplies were given to each family to help support community health.

Food is really expensive right now, and I have two kids, and it actually does help — like the rice you guys gave us, the fruit, beans — it’s really helpful.

Maria Aigareda, Care Recipient

Preparing for the Next Challenge Together

Community volunteer Siyuan Liu hopes to continue doing more meaningful work for the community in the future. Photo/Ruilong Zhang
Vehicles moved forward in a neat line, meeting volunteers as they get ready to place the boxes full of food into trunks. Photo/Ruilong Zhang

Some of the volunteers at the East Valley Community Health Center are old friends who have been helping Tzu Chi for a long time. Siyuan Liu is one such staff member of the center. “As we do every month, we’re handing out food and supplies — both foodstuffs and sanitation supplies, to hundreds of people on these days. It is a great thing, honestly,” he expressed. 

Love is truly limitless, and with more people joining together to help, that care can touch even more lives. Tzu Chi USA’s food pantry project annually benefits more than 98,500 residents. You can help empower us with the resources to do more. 

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